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In a nod to the desire for both casual entertaining and extra living space, builders say most buyers today want a finished lower level with a recreation room, an exercise room and a bedroom or a den that can be used for guests.

Ms. Minich said outdoor spaces are becoming more important, including decks, outdoor fireplaces and gazebos. At Miller & Smith, many homes are designed with an enclosed rear courtyard that becomes extended living space.

With so much competition for buyers, Mr. Halak said builders are trying to offer as many choices as possible, allowing buyers to configure their own floor plans and finishes.